The world cracked and fractured into tiny lines. Light danced in, snakes of fire and sun that expanded and multiplied until the darkness winked out of existence. Saku blinked grit from his eyes, and dust rained down around his ears.
Warmth in his body--the light drove away the chill of death and deep earth. Saku's mind returned. It whispered the Truth, the song that had played over and over while he slept. Obey her.
"Angel?" His body was his own again, and Saku sat up, released an avalanche of crumbling mud from his skin. He could feel her watching over, only an arm's reach away from his side, even before his eyes discovered her there.
We are pleased that you survived.
He felt that, too, her joy at his waking and the shadow of doubt she'd held, the fear that he would not. That Angel would weigh his life as significant gave Saku strength. He had value to her, and so, he would survive for her. He would stand, break free of the mud, and serve her with the life that she'd given him back.
You should move slowly at first, strong one.
"I am ready." He stretched out his legs, shook them, and broke free of the last bits of casing. The dried earth rattled to the cell floor as Saku stood. He only wavered for a moment, only tilted once and then steadied himself.
Angel reared up so that her two rearmost pairs of legs supported her. Her wings were still, a very rare sight, and they made a red cape behind her body. Her forelegs reached for him, tucked under his jaw on either side and turned his head so that he stared into eyes that were each the size of his entire face.
"Tell me what to do."
First, you must bathe, strong one. Her amusement registered in his thoughts, her feelings an easily read backdrop to her words. You are quite filthy.
She moved to grasp him, and Saku relaxed into her embrace. He let his body fall, limp, and trusted his Angel to catch him. Hard arms circled his torso. The prick of her claws dragged at his dirty clothes. Angel's crimson wings buzzed to life, and Saku flew up in her clutches, straight out of the cell.
He watched the city below through new eyes, the perfection of it, the symmetry of the cells, the efficiency of the uniform rooms and the minimal structure. She'd been right to bring him here. Angel had been right about everything.
She carried him to a different cell, one whose bottom had been excavated and filled with clear water. He saw other modified rooms as they flew over, some with occupants, but far more that were vacant. When Angel set him on his feet beside the basin, Saku asked her, "Are there many of my people here?"
We have delivered many, but more are needed.
He didn't wonder at that, nor did he ask about interaction. If he was meant to socialize, she would tell him. The thought was there, however, and she found it easily without him giving it voice.
You will be allowed to mingle eventually, strong one.
Her claws released him, and Saku felt her directive in his mind, her desire that he should make use of the bath. He peeled off the clay-encrusted garments of his village and dropped them to the hard cell floor. The buzz of wings roared overhead, and Saku slid into a tub of crisp water. His skin spawned tiny bumps all over.
The water came to his shoulders. He ducked under and scrubbed at his hair, felt the grit with his fingers and dug at it until his scalp was free and his hair smooth again. When he surfaced, another Wisp hovered over the cell. This one lowered until it could snatch up his clothing then, with his garments dangling from its claw tips, it banked away over the mud walls.
You will not need them.
Saku shrugged away the loss and worked at the rest of his skin. The mud had caked into every wrinkle, and he needed his fingernails to pry it loose in more than a few spots. It was tenacious stuff, and he wondered about it as he scrubbed. Had they added something to the mixture to preserve the sleepers? How had he breathed and healed, if he'd been sealed so tightly inside the crust? The puzzle of it amused him, now that he'd survived, that he understood the absolute necessity of it.
He expected Angel to answer him again, to pluck the questions from his thoughts. Instead, the skies darkened and a droning rose up, so loud that the cell shook, that the water in his bath trembled.
"What is it?" Already he scrambled from the tub, dripping, shivering, but sensing the urgency of the hive through Angel's raw emotions.
There is a towel, Saku, and a robe against the cell wall. Hurry, strong one. Dress yourself, but make haste.
He obeyed her. The towel was rough but functional. It soaked up the water, left his skin alive and prickly. The robe had two parts, a black skirt that hugged his hips and a crimson tunic, shorter than he was used to and much tighter once the belts were crossed and tied. Angel's thoughts showed him how to do that properly, and her urgency drove his fingers to greater speed.
Many are leaving. She urged him on. We must join them, strong one. We must go.
"Where?" He was ready. His hair still dribbled rivulets down his back, but the robe was comfortable, allowed freedom of movement unlike his people's garb. "Tell me what to do."
She leaped the pool and snatched him up again. Saku relaxed, let her support him and used his eyes to discover what he could. The sky above the city had filled with Wisps, many carrying his people beneath them. The air filled with red and black, with buzzing and the thick emotion of Angel's people. Something huge was happening.
Our enemy is afoot, strong one. We go to intercept the devil.
"The earth tigers." Saku heard the horror in his own words. He knew about the enemy. He'd dreamed of them while he healed. The monsters were supposed to be sleeping, and yet, Angel's kind had felt them stir, had been preparing for decades in case the earth tigers awoke. "The ones who..."
The ones who killed your people, strong one. The devils who destroyed your cities, who left your world in ruins. The earth tigers are coming, Saku. And we must kill them all before they rise too high to stop.